"City of dreadful night; cut throats, don't mention political news" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceLytton 01229/12
ArchiveLytton Family Papers, Knebworth
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateDecember 1896
Address FromKimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToConstance Lytton
Other VersionsRive 1987: 296-7
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
The Project is grateful to the Knebworth House Archive (www.knebworthhouse.com) for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter to Lady Constance Lytton, which is part of the Knebworth collections. The letter has been dated by reference to content.
1Dear Con
2
3We are leaving for England next month, so I won't answer your letter
4as fully as I other wise would. We shall not arrive later than the
522nd of Jan; and may be there as early as the 14th. I am waiting to
6find which steamer will likely be the emptiest!
7
8Thank you for the picture. I think it is beautiful, but it makes me
9too sad.
10
11//There is a great tragedy in the lives of modern women that women of
12the old style perhaps know nothing of: It is the tragedy which arises
13when a man cannot really love a woman because she is too much his
14superior
; intellectually and emotionally she moves in a higher world
15^than^ that in which he can move. I^t^ would kill him to live always in
16her atmosphere. A sparrow cannot live up in the air where an eagle
17breathes easily!
18
19That is the tragedy which lies as the key note of my two unpublished
20novels. In the first the woman marries & then for ten years you have a
21picture of her life, “trying to be more what he would like, than what
22she is”, & then in the end even that mighty passion for the man is
23worn out, & her soul is free.
24
25The other novel is just the story of a woman who loves a brilliant &
26immensely wealthy politician, & the reason why, though he loves her
27(in his way), she can't marry him.
28
29I would rather be the second woman than the first. Perhaps you will
30say all this has nothing to do with you but I think it has.
31
32I can't tell you how much I want to see you.
33
34My address in London will be Alice Corthorn's
3519 Russell Rd
36Kensington
37
38Do try & be in Town when I am there. We shall only be there a few days
39& then go on to Italy; to return to London in May.
40
41I have had three very trying mis-carriages, & want to get good medical
42advice also to publish a little book, that is very near my heart,
43which I have just finished.
44
45I hope you will like my husband. He is very good for me, because he
46always makes me feel he loves best what is best in me, not what is
47worst. I think that is why I am so happy with him.
48
49About Adela we will talk when I come. I quite know and most fully
50realize that she now understands Fort's feeling towards her; but ^what^
51she doesn't realize nor understand in the least his character. That's
52the point! I'm always afraid in a fit of indifference to some other
53woman who may be holding him, he might rush & throw himself at her
54feet, & then, not knowing his character, she would th would she be
55strong & wise enough to repulse him? If she did, she would just laugh
56at him goodnaturedly & go on. I regard Seymour Fort now simply as a
57big joke. I never take him seriously^!^ as it
58
59When once a good woman has seen into the depths of a man's soul, &
60seen nothing there; then his power to touch her is gone forever. He
61might have been dead & buried for a thousand years for anything he is
62to her. One would like to take him & plant little flowers all over him,
63 like a grave.
64
65Goodbye. Tell my darling Adela I am coming soon.
66Olive
67
68PS I wasted the best years of my girlhood over one man. I didn't want
69to marry him, he was supposed to be dying to have only a few months to
70live when I first met him, & I worshipped him. This went on year after
71year. I never met him, and I believed nothing anyone told me of his
72nature. He is a most remarkable man with real genius and almost a
73European reputation. Every one said he was selfish & mean, but I never
74believed it, because I didn't know him! One day a letter was shown me,
75at his request, in which he talked slightingly of a woman whom he was
76bound to be loyal to. In f Do you know, from the moment I read it he
77was dead & buried as though he had never existed for me, & I was free.
78
79After ten years' separation I met him again last time I was in England.
80 And he wanted to make friends with me. I simply laughed at him & said,
81 “You are dead, I don't have dead men ^for friends.”^
82
Notation
Schreiner has underlined ‘That’s’ four times in the paragraph beginning ‘About Adela’, and also underlined ‘& I was free’ twice and heavily in the paragraph ending with these words. The first of Schreiner’s ‘two unfinished novels’ is likely to be From Man to Man; while the woman who ‘loved a brilliant politician’ refers to what became the short story ‘The Buddhist Priest’s Wife’, which was published posthumously in Stories, Dreams and Allegories. The ‘little book very near her heart’ that Schreiner was coming to London to publish is Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland. Rive’s (1987) version omits part of this letter and is incorrect in various minor ways.